Skagway, Alaska

The city of Skagway started as a gold rush town, the “Gateway to the Klondike”. When gold was discovered in Yukon Territory in August 1896, a stampede began to reach the gold fields of the Klondike. 100,000 prospectors came between 1897-1898, and most came from Seattle on ships to Skagway or Dyea, just a few miles from Skagway.

Prospectors landing in Skagway or Dyea still had many miles to travel over land to get to the gold fields. Landing in Skagway meant taking the White Pass, which is essentially the route we drove in. Landing in Dyea meant taking the Chilkoot trail, which was a Tlingit trading route, and was more direct but very steep. Prospectors had to take a year of supplies, and travel was dangerous and difficult.

On April 2, 1898 there was an avalanche on the Chilkoot tail and about 65 men died and many are buried in a cemetery in Dyea.

In 1890 the White Pass Railroad was built connecting Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon.

These two things led to Dyea dying out by 1890, and Skagway enduring. By now the city of Dyea is completely gone and it has returned to nature, turning back into beautiful tidal flats.

When the prospectors got to Dawson, Yukon they found a thriving city, and no more available land for prospecting. So after months of risking their lives, most of them turned back and went home. At least they had an adventure, I guess?! The whole thing only lasted about two years.

I learned all of this becoming a Junior Ranger at Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park! The National Park Service has purchased and restored many historical buildings to their gold rush days.

Skagway is very different today than it was during the gold rush. Mostly, it is a cruise ship port. Every day in the summer, 1-3 cruise ships dock and thousands of tourists pour out. They roam the streets, and many of them take the narrow gauge White Pass Yukon Railroad inland. We decided not to ride the historic railroad, because we already drove in on that beautiful route. We did enjoy seeing the trains go through town.

We stayed at Pullen Creek RV Park, which is right next to the harbor, where the cruise ships dock.

Aside from visiting the historical downtown, which is now a mixture of cute shops and cruise ship port jewelry stores, we went for a few short hikes. The hike out to Yakutania Point isn’t very long, and there are beautiful views.

The hike to Lower Dewey Lake was pretty short but really steep, climbing 500 feet in less than a mile. We misjudged this hike, and somehow thought it wouldn’t be as challenging. It was about 70 degrees and sunny with no breeze when we were climbing up, and we were wearing long sleeves and pants. Even better, Brian had lit up a cigar before we started! We may have looked funny sweating and smoking our way up the trail. When we made it to the lake, the dense trees blocked some of the view.

There was a nice view of the harbor from the steep trail. We could see our trailer from the right angle.

We ate at Gold Digger Mine and Dine, which looks and sounds like a pretty touristy place, but it wasn’t. They served delicious Filipino food and were so nice to us. Brian ordered the Milkfish, and they tried to talk him out of it because of all the little bones in it. Brian loves to order things that people warn him not to! When he was done the cook came out to see how he did with the bones, and she was impressed! All the food was delicious, except for the shrimp paste they served with Brian’s fish. It tasted fermented and I wasn’t a fan of it. Brian ate it, though.

There isn’t a seafood market in town, but Woadie’s Seafood Restaurant sold us some raw halibut that Brian cooked. We also went there for their fish and chips. The fried halibut is good, but it was even better when Brian sautéed it.

I think some people avoid Skagway because of the cruise ship crowds, but we enjoyed our few days there. The drive in alone would’ve been worth the visit. In the evenings, when the cruise passengers are back on the ships, the place is a ghost town and feels so calm.

Day 661| Mile 69,268


Alaska or Bust!

The day we left for Alaska I felt so anxious! More anxious than I had felt about traveling since we started nearly two years ago. We’ve gotten pretty comfortable with travel, but going to Alaska somehow felt different. Maybe it was the horror stories about the road conditions, or lack of cell service and gas stations, or the multiple border crossings. We ran some last minute errands, made our reservations for the first two weeks in Alaska, got some Canadian money, and headed for the border. To be good border crossers we made sure not to have any fresh produce or meat, and under the duty-free limit of alcohol and cigars. We crossed at Sumas, Washington, and they asked us about our travel plans, and whether we had any guns or pets with us. That’s it, and the whole thing took about five minutes.

To get in the Canadian spirit we ate some poutine from Tim Hortons, and suddenly speed limits in kilometers per hour and gas sold in liters made a lot more sense. We didn’t make it very far into Canada on the first day. We pulled off at a rest stop near Hope, British Columbia. The section between Hope and Cache Creek is the Fraser River and Thompson River Canyons, and we didn’t want to drive through it in the dark and miss the scenery, so we saved it for the next day.

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We used the Milepost book, which describes the different routes to and in Alaska, mile by mile. It’s a helpful resource, but it has too much information, and can be hard to follow along. It mentioned Chasm Provincial Park, so when we saw the sign for it, we turned to take a look. The park was created in 1940 to preserve the chasm, which was created by glacial meltwater eroding a plateau made from lava flows.

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We stopped at the Walmart in Prince George for the night. There were about 20 other trailers and motorhomes there.

From Prince George, we took the Cassiar Highway route through British Columbia. This is the more rural route than the Alaska Highway.

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Descriptions of roads to Alaska often sound like horror stories, so we were curious about the conditions on the Alaskan Highway and smaller Cassiar Highway. The Cassiar Highway was narrow, without many shoulders or passing lanes, and the northern end didn’t have any center striping. Aside from a few gravel patches here and there, it was smooth with hardly any potholes. We were impressed that the rural road to Alaska (gravel patches aside) is in better shape than typical road in Michigan! There’s no cell service, and not a lot of services for travelers, but we filled our gas tank at nearly every gas station we came to, and didn’t have any problems. We saw gas pumps from all eras.

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There are beautiful totem poles standing in a row in Kitwanga and Gitanyow. I was wondering how we would find them, since the things I read just mentioned the town names. It turns out there are only about 3 or 4 streets in each town, so they weren’t very hard to find. There weren’t all in perfect condition, but the carvings were so interesting.

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We camped for two nights at Meziadin Lake Provincial Park. We got there about 9:30 pm, and the campground hosts pointed us to the last spot big enough for us. It was right next to tent campers that complained that our water heater was too noisy, tent campers should really have their own areas. It didn’t have any hookups, but it was a great location for our side trip into Hyder, Alaska.

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Hyder is the easternmost city in Alaska and the southernmost city that can be driven to. It isn’t connected to any other Alaskan city by road, so the only places to drive to and from are in Canada. There’s no border crossing to get into Hyder, but there is to come back into Canada. There are less than a hundred people living there now, and they call themselves “the friendliest ghost town in Alaska”.

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The hour and a half drive to Hyder took us through a canyon and next to Bear Glacier. We seemed to spend a lot longer looking at it than other people who pulled off to see it, maybe because this was the first glacier we saw up close. It used to cover the valley floor, but has been receding since the 1940s. Now there is a highway on the valley floor, and a lake at the toe of the glacier.

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One we got to Hyder, we stopped at the Seafood Express, also known as the fish bus. We sat outside in the sun and ate halibut fried, grilled, and smoked, and it was all delicious. Brian loved the smoked halibut wings, and got an extra one to go.

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We drove through the town of Hyder back into British Columbia down a dirt road that was the bumpiest road we had encountered so far, covered in potholes. Even the worst road is still passable by a regular car, not as bad as roads we encountered in the southwest.

We drove through a big valley, and after about 20 miles we came to the toe of Salmon Glacier. As we drove, the glacier grew and grew until it filled the entire valley and curved up the mountain.

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When we got to the Summit Viewpoint, we were looking down on the glacier from above, and it so clearly resembled a river of ice, coming down the mountain. Salmon Glacier is enormous, it’s the fifth largest in Canada. It really blew our minds.

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Many people turn around after the Salmon Glacier overlook, but we went further to check out Summit Lake that builds up on the north side of the glacier beyond the ice dam. Each year the dam breaks and the lake drains under the glacier and the river floods for a few days.

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The forest service maintains an observation deck at Fish Creek, and it’s the place in town to see bears catching fish.

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Unfortunately we got there before the salmon were running in the river, but fortunately, the bears didn’t know that. Around 9 pm a big grizzly bear came through looking for fish.

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He walked through the whole creek, and the crowd of twenty or so spectators followed him down the boardwalk. He didn’t find any fish, so he had to eat salad instead, and he mowed down some cow parsnip and grass. At the end, he was pretty close to us, and the forest ranger informed us that he could totally hop the railing and eat us alive. He had his bear spray out and ready, but the bear didn’t even seem to notice us.

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There were so many beautiful and interesting sites to see along the Cassiar Highway.

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We stopped for the night in Jade City, British Columbia, which isn’t so much a city as a store. A family mines jade in British Columbia and sells things carved from it in their store. They even have a reality show on Discovery Canada. Jade is expensive, but we bought just a little to feel good about using their free WiFi, coffee, and overnight RV parking. They were very friendly.

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When we reached the north end of the Cassiar Highway, we got onto the Alaskan highway and crossed into Yukon Territory.

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It drizzled rain for two straight days, which is pretty common for this area. It helped us make better time though, because we didn’t stop as much since the view wasn’t as nice. We did stop for a bear to cross the road in front of us. We saw 9 black bears near the road while we were driving to Alaska!

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We pulled into the Walmart in Whitehorse, Yukon at 7:30 pm, after dumping our tanks and filling water at the gas station next door. They must be used to RVers, the parking lot was full of them. At 11 pm we went out to see the sunset and walked around the parking lot and counted 68 overnighters in vans, motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers! It felt like a campground. Just a few days later I read that this Walmart will no longer allow overnight parking at the end of the summer because it’s gotten out of hand. Brian enjoyed being part of the problem while he had the chance.

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When we left Whitehorse, we drove south to Skagway, Alaska. It was only a few hour drive, but the scenery was so incredible that we pulled over whenever possible. Going through customs into Skagway went fine, and we laughed that the strictest border agent was the one stationed in Stewart, Middle-of-Nowhere British Columbia when we returned from Hyder, Alaska.

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The night before we arrived in Skagway, Brian informed me that he doesn’t think it counts as “driving to Alaska” until we get to the interior of Alaska (rather than the panhandle/inside passage), so I celebrated alone. After a week of driving, we made it to Alaska!

Day 661| Mile 69,268

North Cascades National Park

Seattle is surrounded by three National Parks, Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades. We visited Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks in 2016, but we hadn’t made it to North Cascades National Park about 2 hours northeast of Seattle.

We nearly skipped it this time too, because we were getting so excited to head to Alaska, and preparations took longer than we expected. Instead of skipping it, we decided to spend one day there, driving through the park and seeing the highlights.

North Cascades National Park is managed along with the adjacent Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas, which together protect the rugged North Cascades mountain range. I think we technically were exploring Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which bisects the National Park and encompasses the area around Washington Route 20.

This area became a Forest Reserve in 1897. In the 1920s three dams were built to provide hydroelectric power for Seattle. During construction of the dams a steam engine was used to transport materials. ‘Old Number 6’ has been refurbished and is open to explore. We climbed inside to check it out.

The remaining wilderness was protected as a National Park 50 years ago in 1968. Most of the park is still wilderness. Aside from the main road that goes east/west through the park and the dams, there are few other man-made structures. The mountains are so rugged, but also so densely forested. We stopped at an overlook at Gorge Dam, near Gorge Falls.

Further down the road, we hiked about two miles round trip on a paved trail to Rainy Lake. It took us past a few waterfalls to an amazing lake. Directly across the lake two tall waterfalls flowed down the mountain and into the water.

Washington Pass is the highest point in the area, at 5,477 feet. The views from this overlook were incredible!

On the way back to camp we stopped at Diablo Lake Overlook. The weather has turned and the wind was howling. It felt like a storm was coming. We stayed just long enough to appreciate the lake’s interesting blue color and beautiful islands.

We camped at Alpine RV resort, which was nothing fancy but has a good location just outside the park, and a friendly camp host. I’m glad we didn’t skip this stop!

Day 650 | Mile 67,430

Seattle, Washington

When I returned from visiting my uncle, Brian came to pick me up from the Seattle airport. I opened the backseat door to the truck to throw in my luggage, and my friend Sarah was sitting there! She had arranged with Brian and flew in the night before to surprise me. It suddenly made more sense that Brian was so annoyed with me when I called and told him that my flight was actually 4 hours later than I originally told him.

Sarah and Brian had a whole day to spend before I got there (oops) and they went to the Ballard Locks to see the boats and ships go up and down. A few years ago I had visited the locks with Brian’s parents, without him, so it was only fair for him to visit.

They saw the Fremont Troll, which Sarah was excited about, since it features in a show she likes, “Once Upon a Time”.

They also visited Locust Ciders, and got flights, and played with their classic Nintendo games. Sarah was crazy about their ciders, and they had fun flavors like Vanilla, Honey Pear, and Watermelon.

The next day we visited Pikes Place Market. We wandered through the vendor’s stalls and bought some handmade items. We gawked at the beautiful flower bouquets and seafood vendors tossing fish. Across the street we visited the first Starbucks and got a couple drinks.

Speaking of drinks, our Seattle Cider Crawl continued with a visit to Citizen 6, where the food was tasty but we were bummed to find out they don’t make their own cider. Then onto Schilling, where they make many of their own ciders and also serve other makers’ ciders. I really liked that they color-coded the menu by the sweetness of the cider, since I like sweet ciders! They also had interesting flavors. We each got our own flight and were able to try most of the flavors. We ended up back at Locust, playing Nintendo and ordering pizza.

For Sarah’s last day in Seattle we ate Liege Waffles at Sweet Iron, and drank more cider at Capitol Cider.

Then we went downtown and toured the Chihuly Museum and went up into the Space Needle. Both of these attractions are pretty pricey, but buying the combo ticket made the price a little easier to swallow.

The Chihuly Museum was so colorful. I especially liked the piece with sea creatures in it, and the full room installation, Mille Fiore.

Outside there is a garden full of more glass art installations, and a big glass room with a huge sculpture inside.

We rode up the elevator about 160 feet to the top of the Space Needle. The Space Needle was built in 1961 for the 1962 World’s Fair. Part of it was under construction, but we walked around the area that was open and saw the views. The glass was angled, and there were angled benches, and sitting on the bench and leaning against the glass was hard for me to do!

We had a great time seeing the tourist sites with Sarah, and her visit was over too soon. After she went home, we moved campgrounds from the KOA to the Tall Chief Thousand Trails Collection RV Park. The KOA is close to the airport and an easy drive to downtown Seattle, but is basically a parking lot. Tall Chief is east of Seattle, and near enough to visit Bellevue or Seattle for errands, and is full of woods. Our site was roomy and nice. The campground has electric and water hookups only, and after 13 nights even trying to conserve water, our tanks were full.

We got together with my friends Christina and Casey and went out to a delicious dinner and then to a show with two folk singers. One played the banjo, and the other played the accordion. Capped off a with a couple beers, it was a really fun night!

We spent the next two weeks getting ready to go to Alaska, including an old favorite pastime, getting the truck repaired. First Brian took the truck to get an Airlift kit installed on the back axle to improve the suspension. While they were installing it, they noticed we had a broken leaf spring, and referred us somewhere else to have that fixed. Then Brian was reinstalling the heat shield (the clips had broken during the thousand oil changes we’ve gotten), and noticed oil leaking from the left turbo. So, he took the truck into a Ford dealership and we needed to have the left turbo replaced. Again. It wasn’t a cheap repair, but Ford worked with us on the cost, since we’ve had so many issues. Brian also got the shock we needed from an Airstream dealer and installed it.

We were hoping to be issue-free after that, but about a week after the Airlift kit was installed, one of the bags stopped holding air. The installation was done wrong, and the airline was melted by our exhaust pipe. So, Brian drove about 5 hours round trip to get them to redo it. It is tricky to get things like this done when we are in a new unfamiliar area each time. We try to read online reviews before picking where to go, but it’s always a gamble.

Brian’s obsession with poke continues, and we found the perfect place for him.

We also had a tasty meal at Taylor Shellfish. Their farm is north of Seattle, and they are the largest shellfish farm in the United States. They grow and sell oysters, clams, and geoducks. Brian really wanted to try geoduck, so we ordered the geoduck sashimi appetizer. Geoducks are the largest burrowing clam and can live up to 140 years. Our server brought out “a small one” that he said was about 6 months old to show us what they look like.

He let us know which part of the appetizer was the body of the geoduck and which was the siphon. It didn’t have a lot of flavor, but the texture was really interesting. It was firm and kind of resembles the texture of a cucumber. Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar was a great place to finish Oysterfest!

Day 647| Mile 66,806

Oysterfest on the Oregon Coast

Brian has been so eager to explore the Pacific Northwest, but when I asked him what he wanted to see, he only ever said “the coast”, and when I pressed him for more ideas he expanded to “oysters”. So, that’s what we did. We drove to the coast and ate a ridiculous amount of oysters and other seafood.

Once we were in Oregon, we enjoyed slightly lower gas prices than in California, but we couldn’t pump the gas ourselves, which felt strange. We also found it odd that Oregonians drink hot coffee drinks with a straw. Other than these quirks, we really enjoyed visiting Oregon!

Since we were interested in oysters, we stopped at the bays on the Oregon Coast, where oysters are farmed. Our first stop was Coos Bay, Oregon. It didn’t feel like a very touristy place, mostly logging, fishing, crabbing, and oyster farming.

Before we visited the first oyster farm, I gave Brian a pep talk on how it was only our first stop of many during our Oysterfest. We agreed that we wouldn’t go nuts. We walked past mountains of oyster shells into the small store at Qualman Oyster Farm, and Brian asked for three dozen oysters. We were told that we could get 50 oysters of mixed sizes for only a few dollars more, so for $30, we walked out with a big cooler full of small, medium, and large oysters. And the larges were really big! None of them were what I would call small.

We also went to Clausen Oysters and bought another two dozen extra-small and small oysters. So much for not going nuts.

At the marina we bought some crab at Fisherman’s Wharf to make crab cakes. At Chuck’s Seafood Market we bought smoked oysters and oyster sticks and salmon sticks.

Shucking all those oysters took a long time for Brian to do. I think I shucked one oyster. The big ones were so tough to shuck that Brian grilled them for a bit, then opened them, and finished grilling them with butter.

We stayed at the Oregon Dunes KOA, which has dune access for off-roaders. There were a lot of four-wheelers there, which brought Brian back to his four-wheeling days at Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan. We weren’t sure if it would be the best place for oyster shucking and grilling, but our neighbors that pulled in one night were very complimentary of our picnic and we shared some grilled oysters with them. The next night the whole campground was treated to loud music, including dueling banjos.

The KOA is north of Coos Bay, so we crossed the Conde McCollough Memorial Bridge several times to get back into town. Built in the 1930s, it was the longest bridge in Oregon at the time, over a mile long. It was renamed after Conde McCollough, who was the bridge engineer who designed many of the beautiful bridges on Oregon’s coast.

Mingus Park is in the middle of the town and has a nice pond to walk around.

Shore Acres State Park has a formal garden and a rose garden. It was beautiful in the summer, but we heard it’s really nice when it is decorated at Christmastime.

Heading north from Coos Bay, we visited Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes stretch 40 miles along the Oregon coast. At the advice of a ranger, we hiked just a part of the John Dellenback Dunes Trail, and instead of following it out to the ocean across a couple miles of soft sand, we turned to the left and climbed up the tallest dune in the area and enjoyed the view from the top. It was windy!

When we turned off of Highway 101 to see the Umpqua River Lighthouse, we stopped at Umpqua Triangle Oysters for another dozen. Brian wrapped these in bacon and grilled them.

We passed Haceta Head Lighthouse and an area called the Devil’s Churn, which is a narrow inlet that was once a sea cave before the roof caved in. We did the short hike down to it to see the waves crash in.

The next stop on our tour of the Oregon Coast was Newport, on Yaquina Bay. We stayed at the Thousand Trails Whalers Rest RV Park. Newport is the home of Rogue Brewery, which we visited. Brian had an IPA sampler, and I made my own with all the chocolatey and/or dark beers on the menu. The Double Chocolate Stout was my favorite.

Newport has a historic riverfront area with shops and restaurants, and a surimi (imitation crab) plant. We got chowder at Mo’s and walked around.

Oregon Oyster Farm is on Yaquina Bay, and we stopped in for a few dozen oysters.

The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse at the mouth of the Yaquina Bay was built in 1871.

It was only used for a few years before it was replaced by the Yaquina Head Lighthouse just north of Newport, which was our favorite lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. There were hundreds of Cormorants on the rocks near the lighthouse.

The Yaquina Bay Bridge was built in the 1930s and also designed by Conde McCollough.

Our last campground in Oregon was in Seaside, at the Thousand Trails Seaside RV Park. On the way we stopped at Nevor Shellfish Farm in Tillamook. They had beautifully tumbled oysters that were the most delicious ones to eat raw. We also stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, but they had a temporary visitor center open while they are building a new one.

It rained and rained and rained for 3 days straight. Brian took advantage of the rain to wash the truck and trailer, and was out there for most of a day. We didn’t see a whole lot in Seaside, partly because of the rain, but we did go down to Cannon Beach to see the famous Haystack Rock, which is HUGE, it’s 235 feet tall!

We also used it as a base to visit Portland, Oregon, even though it’s about a two hour drive inland. We spent a lot of time in the car on the two days we visited Portland!

We ate delicious biscuit sandwiches at Pine State Biscuit, and shopped at Powell’s Bookstore, which is the largest independent bookstore. I wandered around for ages before deciding on a couple Alaska guide books.

We went to Voodoo Donuts, and bought a few of the most sugary sweet, over the top treats. I loved the VooDoo doll donut, which was stuffed with frosting, and Brian liked the banana fritter with peanut butter and chocolate toppings.

Jamie, my friend since fifth grade, and her husband Adam and their kids live in Portland, so we visited with them and went out for dinner and beers.

Astoria is at the northern border of Oregon. We drove on steep streets up a 600 foot hill to the highest place. On the top of the hill is the Astoria Column, a 125 foot column built in 1926 and decorated with scenes from Astoria history. We climbed the 164 steps on the spiral staircase to the top. Passing people coming down was a tight squeeze.

The Astoria-Megler bridge, built in the 1960s, connects Oregon and Washington, and is 4 miles long!

We drove up to Oysterville in Washington and bought clams at Oysterville Sea Farms. The whole town is historic from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

We didn’t make any plans ahead of time, but we found a lot to see and do on the Oregon and Washington coast. I tried really hard to be spontaneous, but I’m still pretty bad at it. Driving on Highway 101 was really beautiful, on cliffs up above the ocean. By the end of our Oysterfest, we had eaten 12 dozen oysters!

Once we got into Washington, I flew to Tampa to visit my uncle. Brian stayed on the coast and had some fun without me. He bought a tool for clam digging (called a clam gun) and went south back to Oregon to go digging for Pacific razor clams. He drove right onto the beach and joined the other clam diggers, and found several clams two days in a row.

They are a type of burrowing surf clam with a trunk-like siphon on one end and a digger foot on the other. Some were huge, like the size of his hand. They are so big that unlike a lot of other mollusks that are eaten whole, they are shelled and have their guts cleaned out before cooking and eating. There isn’t a large commercial market for them and they are highly perishable so the best way to eat them is to dig them yourself. They look strange to me, but Brian sautéed them in butter and said they were delicious.

Then he moved up the Washington coast and scoped out tide pools in Olympic National Park. The tide was low for a few days, and he planned the stop around the tides. I was sorry to miss this, when we went to Olympic National Park a few years ago it had the best tide pools we’ve seen!

After a week of coastal fun, Brian moved to Seattle to pick me up from the airport.

Day 628 | Mile 65,878

Crater Lake National Park

Mount Mazama was once an 11,000 foot tall volcano in what is now southern Oregon. 7,700 years ago it violently erupted and collapsed into itself, losing about 3,000 feet in height. The remaining caldera eventually filled with water, creating a clear blue lake.

When we arrived there were some clouds, and it got cloudier as the day went on. The lake looked dark blue under the overcast sky.

The next day we went back, and in clear blue skies the lake was a vibrant bright blue. It was really interesting to see the lake under two different conditions.

Crater Lake has been protected as a National Park since 1902, the fifth-oldest. It is one of the snowiest places in America, and the snow that falls into the steep cliffs surrounding the lake provide the water. Since there are no rivers flowing into or out of the lake, and the watershed is small and entirely protected, the water is about as clean as can be.

Crater Lake is surprisingly deep. At 1,949 feet at it’s deepest point, it’s the deepest lake in the United States. The water’s clarity and the lake’s depth both contribute to Crater Lake being a so blue.

There is an island in the lake called Wizard Island, 763 feet above the surface of the lake, made of a cinder cone that has its own crater.

The pinnacles of rock on the cliffs surrounding the lake show some of the plumbing inside the volcano.

When we visited at the end of May, Rim Road that surrounds the lake was still partly closed. Since there is so much snow, and it lingers so long, the road isn’t entirely open until summer.

As we drove around the west side of the lake from south to north, it got snowier. We saw for ourselves why the road opens so late each year.

The temperature was in the 30’s at the rim of the lake. As we drove the road as far as we could, we saw the lake from as many angles as we could.

Every view was beautiful, and we eloquently said “it’s so BLUE!” every time we got out at an overlook.

After gawking at Crater Lake, we drove west toward the Oregon Coast. We discovered an intriguing food at Smokin’ Friday BBQ, the Hot Pork Sundae! Layers of pulled pork and mashed potatoes, with green beans and a cherry tomato on top.

The drive took us through the Umpqua National Forest, and we had to get out of the car to gawk more and explore the rivers and trees in the forest.

Oregon is a stunning state!

Day 610 | Mile 63,461

Lava Beds National Monument

Just north of Lassen Volcanic National Park we stopped at Subway Cave, which is a lava tube about a third of a mile long that’s open on both ends.

It was dark and chilly in there, and the surprising part was how hard it was to walk. The ground was rough and craggy, and it was harder than we expected to move around.

The walls had such interesting colors and patterns. Unfortunately, there was also some graffiti. I don’t know what makes people want to write on nature.

We drove north on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway passed Mount Shasta to Lava Beds National Monument.

A lava tube is formed when lava flows cool from the outside in. The hardened lava insulates the hot lava within, that keeps flowing through. The inside of a lava tube demonstrates pretty well how the lava moved inside. There are lavacicles on the ceiling, and striations on the walls from different levels of lava flow. Lava Beds National Monument has the highest concentration of lava tube caves in the continental United States.

There are 25 developed lava tube caves, which they’ve designated as Least Challenging, Moderately Challenging, and Most Challenging. We avoided the Most Challenging caves, because they involved crawling, helmets, kneepads, and navigation! A few of the caves were closed to protect the bats inside. We explored a couple easy caves and a couple moderate caves.

Golden Dome Cave has a small opening behind the ladder, but it opens up at the bottom. The back of the cave is a figure-8, and the ceiling is covered in hydrophobic bacteria. The water is repelled as droplets on top of the yellow bacteria, so they shine like gold when our flashlights lit it up. I never knew bacteria could be so beautiful! This was our favorite cave we explored.

Skull Cave is a short wide cave, and at the end, there is a stairway down. It’s actually three lava tubes stacked on top of each other. Cold air gets trapped in the bottom level, and it creates an ice floor. It used to be open, but now it’s behind a gate.

Sunshine Cave has a couple of areas where the roof has collapsed and the sunshine comes in and there are plants growing.

Sentinel Cave has two openings (like Subway cave) and some light coming in from openings in the ceiling.

Mammoth Crater created the lava tube caves, when lava flowed out between 30 and 40 thousand years ago. By now it’s full of trees and plants again.

We boondocked just south of the monument on forest land, which worked out great because there was no availability at the campground since it was Memorial Day weekend. The spot was surrounded by tall pine trees and smelled great. There was a fire pit and we had campfires. We were planning to stay two nights, but liked the spot so much that we stayed 4 nights.

Day 608 | Mile 63,260

Lassen Volcanic National Park

We left the California coast and started driving inland to Lassen National Park expecting about a four and a half hour drive. We got about 40 miles before the road we were taking (CA-36) was closed with no detour! It was scheduled to open in three hours, but rather than waiting, we doubled back and started from scratch, taking CA-299 instead. The day turned into a long driving day, but we did see our first bald eagle in Shasta-Trinity National Forest! He sat on the cliff overlooking the river for a while before taking off to look for lunch.

The next day we explored Lassen Volcanic National Park, which has all four types of volcano! Plug Dome, Cinder Cone, Shield, and Composite. The types of volcano are differentiated by shape, composition of lava, and type of eruption. There are also geothermic features similar to what we saw in Yellowstone National Park.

The main road through the park takes ages to be cleared of snow, and was set to open May 27, but we were just a few days early. We were able to visit locations in the park from all four corners, so I feel like we were still able to see what we wanted to. It did involve a lot of driving though!

Lassen Peak (a plug dome volcano) erupted multiple times between 1914 and 1921, with the main eruption in 1915. The snow on the mountain liquified and along with cinder and ash caused a huge mudslide clearing trees and earth from an area now known as Devastated Area.

In the Southwest corner we went to the visitors center and the geothermic Sulphur Works area, which was once a Sulphur mine. There are fumaroles (steam vents), mudpots, and hot springs. We were amazed at how colorful it was.

We wanted to see more steaming and roiling, so we dropped the trailer at the visitor center and drove about an hour and a half to the trailhead for Devils Kitchen. It was a long drive, and just as I was starting to wonder if it would be worth it, we drove around a bend and spotted a bear, at the same time that it spotted us. It crossed the road and looked like it would dash off, but it stuck around for a bit. It seemed to forget about us, and went to a tree and casually stripped it of its bark and ate the exposed insects. It was really cool to see it behave like a bear! It was a black bear, even though its fur was brown.

The Devils Kitchen hike was about four and a half miles round trip, mostly through forest and meadow. There were occasionally boardwalks, and parts of the trail were pretty muddy. Along the way there was a small stream that happened to be steaming.

At the end of the hike there is an area of geothermic activity, and we were the only ones there. It was like Yellowstone, without all the people! There were boardwalks in a few places, but most of the trail was thick white mud that caked on our boots. It was amazing to walk through the steaming area, though it was a little stinky.

In the northwest corner is Manzanita Lake. We walked around the lake (about a mile and a half), and Brian looked enviously at the fishermen in float boats. It was a beautiful clear day and Lassen Peak was reflecting on the lake. We saw another bald eagle.

Surprisingly, later that day we got caught in a storm. We drove to the northeast corner of the park to see the Cinder Cone. We set out on the 4 mile round trip hike, though it looked like rain was coming. We stopped to climb on the big volcanic rocks in the Fantastic Lava Beds rubble field.

When we got to the Cinder Cone, we headed up the steep trail. Climbing on the cinders was tough, because they moved under each step.

It took a bit, but we were nearly to the top when the storm rolled in. We really wanted to make it into the crater, but we saw lightning and we didn’t want to be at the top of a bald volcano anymore. We basically ran down the Cinder Cone in the wind and rain. Soon after, it started to hail. Fortunately, we had brought our raincoats and a dry bag for the camera, so it wasn’t so bad.

While we were visiting Lassen, we noticed uneven wear on our trailer tires, and a shock was leaking oil. We took it into a shop that works on trailers, and they told us we needed to get our alignment fixed. They were able to fix the alignment and put on new tires, but they weren’t able to get a new shock in time, so we will need to get that replaced soon. We stayed in Walmart parking lots in Red Bluff and Anderson while we visited the park and got the repair work done.

Day 604| Mile 62,997

Redwoods National Park

Coastal Redwoods are the tallest of all trees. They are even taller than Giant Sequoias, though they aren’t as thick. There are several State Parks and a National Park in California that protect these trees.

Like the Giant Sequoias, Coastal Redwoods are fire-resistant, and can live to be over a thousand years old. Unlike the Giant Sequoias that grow mixed with other types of trees, Coastal Redwoods dominate the forests they form. As a result, there are far more Coastal Redwoods.

Since they grow near the coast, the fog off the ocean brings so much moisture into the forest that it becomes rainforest. Moss hangs off the trees, and there are banana slugs the size of hot dogs, though we unfortunately didn’t see any.

We walked through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and saw amazing tall trees. They form burls near the base, and if the tree experiences too much stress, new trees will grow from the burl, making tree clones. That’s a pretty cool survival mechanism.

We saw clusters of tree clones growing together. The trail was so nice and soft, and we had it to ourselves.

Behind the Redwood National Park visitors center is a great place to walk on the beach.

We drove north on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through the National Park. The trees were so straight and right on the edge of the road. Whenever one got a little too close to the road, they just put a reflector on it. When we turned onto the Coastal Drive, the road was blocked by a recently fallen tree. Thankfully it wasn’t a redwood! There were a few cars stuck behind it, and people were standing around wondering how to get through, since this was the only route. Brian whipped out his saw and cut the tree right in half, clearing the road. For several cars full of tourists, he was a hero!

From the Coastal Drive we stopped at the overlooks to see the ocean.

We went a little further, and stopped at a World War II radar station, disguised to look like a couple barns. The walls are cement blocks, but from above, they are well disguised. We would’ve spent more time inspecting, but we heard buzzing, and Brian was stung on the lip by a wasp!

There is a platform with a couple bear statues, and we went out to the end, to see that it used to be a bridge over the Klamath River, that was washed out in the Christmas flood of 1964. The city of Klamath and the bridge were actually rebuilt further upriver.

We stayed at Humboldt County Fairgrounds, in Ferndale, California. It isn’t a fancy campground, but it is about halfway between Redwoods National Park and the Lost Coast, so we left the trailer there while we did our backpacking. When we arrived, half of the campground was closed off and sheep were grazing. By the time we returned from backpacking our sheep neighbors had moved and the whole campground was open.

Ferndale is a small town with well-preserved Victorian storefronts on Main Street. We wandered down the street and checked out the shops, including a pretty cool blacksmith shop.

Day 600| Mile 62,166

Backpacking California’s Lost Coast

The King Range Wilderness Area, known as the Lost Coast, is a rugged and unspoiled stretch of Northern California’s coastline.  Too challenging to build here, the Pacific Coast Highway had to turn inland leaving this remote wilderness area as one of the least developed stretches in the pacific northwest.

The few roads in the area are windy and slow. We parked our truck at Black Sands Beach which is the south end of the 25 mile hike, and booked a shuttle to Mattole Beach at the north end. It took about 2 hours in the shuttle to get from one end to the other, using an amazingly indirect route.  It took us three full days and three nights by foot to hike back to our truck.

After meeting our shuttle and making the long drive back north and unloading, we got to the beach and made a quick lunch. We started hiking around 4 pm, and stopped at any tide pools we saw along the way.

A few hours later we arrived at the Punta Gorda Lighthouse, which operated from 1912 to 1951, when it was decommissioned due to its remoteness. It was the “Alcatraz of Lighthouses.”

There is an elephant seal colony camped out on the beach near the lighthouse. Hunted to the brink of extinction, thankfully they are making a comeback.

We walked through the colony, trying not to attract too much attention. They noticed us though, and they all turned to look at us, which was pretty intimidating. They also grunted at us and made it clear we were not to get too close, not that we were planning to!

They lay all together in big blubbery lumps, with big shiny black doll eyes, but I’m sure they could take us, no problem. Elephant seals are big! The males are 3,000 to 5,000 pounds.

The hiking was mostly on the beach, which was slow and challenging because we were walking over soft sand or hard rocks varying in size from pebbles to big boulders.

The worst was football size. The rocks moved and shifted under our feet, so every step involved planning and hope. At least navigation was easy, since we were hiking on the coast. As long as we kept the ocean on our right, we couldn’t get lost.

The rugged mountains and cliffs next to the beach have rivers flowing down valleys every mile or two. This made finding water easy, though we did have to filter it. It tasted great for the most part, but in an area where there was evidence of wildfires, the water tasted smoky.

We saw several river otters swimming in the ocean. Our best sighting was one that just caught a huge fish that was flopping around struggling to escape at the surface. We followed it a little ways until there were some rocks offshore, and the otter brought the fish up on a rock to eat it. We were jealous of his dinner, but he didn’t look like he wanted to share.

We got a later start than expected, and were far too easily distracted from hiking by seals and tide pools and all the pretty, so we didn’t make it as far as we planned on the first day.

Fortunately, we could camp at most of the creeks, and we found a site as the sun was setting. Camping is allowed just about anywhere accessible above the tide line, and it’s recommended to camp in existing campsites if possible to minimize impact. Campsites are recognized by fire pits made from stones.

Our site on Willow Creek was beautiful, and even better because we were the only ones around. We didn’t sleep very well the first night. Our tent and sleeping bags and pads are pretty comfortable, but it was unfamiliar. And even though the actual ocean is the world’s best sound machine, it was pretty loud! Our tent might look small, but it is actually the 3-person tent.  We were glad to have the “extra space,” but highly doubt we could squeeze a friend in the middle.

We woke up early the next day, to time the tides. The early low tides of the day were the lowest of the month, around -1.7 feet, which meant we could explore one of Brian’s top five things, tide pools!

We saw green anemone, ochre sea stars, crabs, gumboot chiton, purple urchins, mussels, and kelp. We explored tide pools each day during low tides, and that made Brian very happy.

We were lucky to have really low tides, but that meant we also had really high tides. There are two four mile stretches and one short stretch that are impassable at high tide, so it was important to time the hiking with the tides. We made it halfway through the first four mile stretch when we decided that we didn’t want to risk making it through the next two miles before the tide got too high, so we tucked in next to Cooksie Creek and set up our tent and took a nap, cooked lunch, and had a driftwood fire. We ended up there for 6 hours before the tide was low enough that we wanted to start again.

lost coast for blog-117

It seemed like an inconvenience but it turned out to be a nice break. When the tide lowered, we finished the two miles of beach, and then were able to hike on flat firm ground for a little while! Less than a third of the trail can be done over land on the cliffs near the beach, which goes through some flat areas between the more mountainous regions. Our feet and legs were thankful for a break from loose sand and rocks.

The wildflowers were blooming in the Spanish Flat area, and we walked through big fields of them so dense we could barely see the trail.

The second night we camped at Oat Creek, and again we were the only people around. We slept better that night, and slept in a bit in the morning, and then went out to see the tide pools at low tide. Each day low tide was a little later than the day before.

The next day we hiked through a bit more flat inland trail, and sand and rocks on the beach. The nice things about the beach hiking was that the terrain changed frequently, so when sand or small rocks or big rocks got annoying, it would change to something else. I thought the sand would be bad, but after the rocks I was always happy to see sand.

The last mile of the day’s hiking was pretty hard, over the worst size of rocks, and we were tired when we made it to Shipman Creek around sunset to camp for the night. There were four other couples there, but there were enough campsites for us to stay, which was great because I don’t think I could’ve gone another mile to the next creek at that point!

It was the clearest night of the trip, and all the stars were out.

On the last day we had about 7 miles to go. The first three were hiking out of the area that was impassable at high tide, and the last four we were told by a ranger would be difficult beach hiking. The first two of the last four were very difficult, with some of the most annoying rocky sections.

Our feet were dying and this part felt long in the hot sun. We took a nice break after and took off our boots and stretched out our feet, and started the last two miles all hopped up on Snickers that we were saving for the last day. The last two miles were pleasant (but still challenging) sandy beach walking, over the black sand on the appropriately named Black Sands Beach.

There was so much to see walking on the coast. There were urchins, huge mussels, abalone shells, crabs, and kelp, and other sea stuff washed up on the beach. Beach combing is not allowed, so everything was in much greater numbers than we had ever seen.  We saw whale bones and a seabird snacking on a dead octopus. As we were finishing the trail we saw a pair of whales swimming along the coast.

Brian tested the Bullwhip kelp to see if it lived up to its name, and it did.

We started our hike on May 15, which is the first day of the high season (May 15 – September 15), where they issue 60 permits a day instead of 30. Which is probably why we were able to get a permit about 3 weeks ahead of time. We lucked out on the weather, it was cool and cloudy for the first two days and sunny for the third and fourth days. The cool weather was better for hiking, we got a tad sunburned the last day. It only rained a little bit during the third night when we were in our tent so we didn’t feel it.

Brian spent time in advance preparing meals for us to eat on the trail. All our food had to fit in a bear can (along with toiletries), so we had to be careful about what we brought. Brian wanted to have three hot meals a day, and I thought that was overkill and that we should bring more snacks and meals that didn’t need cooking.

It turned out that we were both right. It was really nice to have hot food and coffee throughout the day, but it took a fair amount of time and effort to unpack the cooking stuff and food and make and eat a meal and wash up and repack.

But, when I think back to making camp at sunset and setting up the tent, and going down to the beach and cooking dinner and eating in the dark, exhausted, I think maybe I was a little more right.  Brian and I agree to disagree.

Our packs felt heavy, Brian’s was about 40 pounds and mine was about 30 pounds. We were aiming for less, but we didn’t bring that much that we wouldn’t bring if we did it again. This included over 8 pounds of camera stuff, and we were glad to have that because, damn, it was pretty.

We didn’t use rain jackets or very much first aid stuff, but that stuff we would definitely bring again. As inexperienced backpackers, we’d rather be prepared. The only thing we wouldn’t have brought would be water shoes/hiking sandals. We weren’t sure what the level of the creeks would be like and whether we would need to wade through them. We were able to rock hop across (a few had a log across that we could use as a balance beam). With our waterproof hiking boots, we stayed dry. I was really glad to have high-topped waterproof hiking boots (especially over the rocks and in the creeks), and trekking poles. We would both probably bring less clothes next time, but we might have wanted them if we got wet.

The main challenges we were warned of ahead of time were ticks, poison oak, bears, and rattlesnakes. We didn’t encounter any ticks or rattlesnakes. The black bears were definitely around, fresh tracks the third morning next to camp were evidence of that.  The bear did not mess with any of our gear, and the other campers nearby did not have any problems either. The poison oak warning was no joke, it is absolutely everywhere other than the beach. Sometimes the poison oak was a huge bush, other times it was mixed in with the grass. We were able to avoid touching it for the most part, but sometimes we had to hike right through it.  Brian picked up a little rash after the trip, but it could have been worse.

There was only one brief time that it got a little dicey. We were told if there is an overland trail, we should take it, to save our feet and strength for the beach sections (which was at least two thirds of the trail), only, it wasn’t always obvious when there was an overland trail we should be taking.

So, after a long stretch of overland trail, we continued on when I think we were supposed to go down to the beach. Eventually it appeared that the trail had collapsed in a land slide, but there was a small trail going up and over the washed out part, so we took that.

The trail got a bit sketchy, and crumbly right on the edge of the cliff. Even Brian got nervous, and when he gets nervous, I know we are doing something dumb. When the trail ended, there was no way down to the beach! At least, no safe way and no way I was willing to try. So we turned around, and I thought we might have to backtrack nearly a mile to the last creek, but after just a bit we saw that where it looked like it washed out and we originally went up, we we able to get down to the beach.

Backpacking was a bit uncomfortable, but I think that’s part of the fun, and it helps me appreciate the comforts of normal life. Before we left, if I had been asked what I would miss most out of the following things: a) my cell phone, b) toilets, c) going inside, or d) running water, I wouldn’t have guessed it would be e) chairs! That wasn’t even on my list of concerns. (Ok, that’s not totally true, it was probably actually b) toilets.) Fortunately, there were often driftwood logs to sit on, and when there wasn’t, I (unsuccessfully) tried to pull up the comfiest rock I could find.

Our first backpacking experience was amazing, and Brian picked a great trail when he picked the Lost Coast. It was so nice to unplug for a few days and spend so much time outdoors. The hiking was challenging, but so rewarding. It was hard not to be in good spirits the whole time!

Day 596| Mile 61,891